La Dolce Vita with a Negroni cocktail recipe: gin, Campari, Vermouth and a twist of Orange peel. Even if you’ve only been following me for a little while, you know that I love anything Italian and I’ve been very fortunate to travel to many different parts of that magical country.  Although, I must admit that I favor Tuscany for its food and wine. During my visits, I have met some wonderful friends and made the most incredible food memories. Once, I spent several days with some friends in the tiny town of Savigno, Italy where I learned how to make pasta. To be a true pasta master takes enormous dedication and ‘time on task’ or practice – practice – practice.  There is no shortcut for experience. Maybe it should come as no surprise that I’ve also collected some great recipes and cooking ideas during my travels there. I love all…

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A popular ornamental plant is our favorite home flower decoration – hydrangea! The name “hydrangea” may or may not ring any bells. But if ornamental horticulture happens to be your “thing” or if you have ever seen the plant and its distinctive bloom, you might ask, “What’s that flower?” You may see hydrangeas at florists, but it’s also just as likely this favorite ornamental plant already lives somewhere in your garden. It’s a favorite of landscapers and garden hobbyists because they are hardy plants, the blooms are huge and last a long time, and it has a long flowering season (from early spring to late autumn). The best part is that the cut flowers look fantastic in a vase in just about any home. My mother had hydrangeas in the front and backyard. I’d cut the blooms and stick them into vases. We were surprised by how long they lasted. …

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Tips for Home Décor – creating the right “balance” between look and function. When I buy rugs for my home, I think about how they’ll look in my home – color and style, and how they will ‘get along’ with everything else that is already in the room. But for some people that’s not enough.  They like to go a bit further with themes, shapes and symbology. I have a friend who is a professor of history at a university and, logically, is a real history buff.  He says that his biggest problem is that he can’t look at anything (including furniture and rugs) without thinking about its story and that sometimes creates a small problem (like if he needs to buy a rug!). But sometimes it’s fun for those of us within earshot to hear the history and stories behind a design. Not long ago, we were at an…

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What a great opportunity – to cozy up with warm drinks, hot food, and close friends. The Italians love dining outside so much that there’s a term for it in Italian – Al Fresco; dining in the fresh air. Dining ‘al fresco’ with friends can even be more fun than dining inside. But maybe your first reaction is, “Fran? It’s winter.” And my response will be, “Yes!” There’s something about serving meals and hanging out with friends and family outdoors that sometimes makes it feel so much more intimate than indoors. Maybe it reminds us of camping (or our idea of camping if you’ve never been) and being closer to nature. Cold weather can open up a great home entertaining opportunity that you can’t overlook. Even if you don’t have a home with a backyard – you can entertain outside on your deck or patio. Yes, even in the winter…

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Make a statement with cool accents and fabulous conversation starters. A lesson I learned from my mother: if it has dust on it, it’s been out too long. The lesson from that idea may not be what you immediately think. She tended to toss things out and wasn’t very fond of collecting (even silver I’m sad to say). BUT she did like to change out her home décor from season to season so that the whole house seemed to constantly renew itself. Truly, one of the only things that stayed the same was the amazing Chinese Red silk wallpaper she had put on the ceiling in the living room! The focal point of your living room is your coffee table. It really is the center of the room, you literally sit at it. For that fact alone, it’s probably one of the first things in your whole house that your…

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Celebrate love and friendships with this favorite cocktail recipe. There’s more to a mixed drink than a chunk of fruit, a swizzle stick, and a little paper umbrella. Most people think of mixed drinks as “cocktails” and some mixes are so popular that they’ve become cultural standards. Practically everyone knows, for instance, that a Martini (either Gin or Vodka) can be shaken or stirred. What would tacos be without Margaritas? And, I can’t think of many adults who haven’t heard the Eagles song “Tequila Sunrise,” and then tried a glass at least once in their lifetime. Mixed drinks can be so much fun, sweet or savory, and they have a ton of history behind them. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word “cocktail” originated in the U.S., but this may have referred to any mixed drink but it didn’t have to be alcoholic. Then there are a few obscure…

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Because your home should look as good on the outside as it does on the inside. Yards look so sad this time of year, especially the backyard.  The grass goes brown and the trees are mostly bare. Add to this, the persistent gloom of cloudy grey skies. But – that doesn’t mean you can’t fight the gloom with a little strategic outdoor décor. I’m not talking about a massive makeover. I’m just thinking about simple things that can make your front door more inviting. And everything I’m going to suggest would work great whether you live in an apartment, condo, or a single-family home – simply adjust the size and number of items for the space you have! When thinking about the ‘curb appeal’ of your home, what do you want people to see? If you want the front door to be more inviting, get yourself an evergreen wreath. The…

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Just because it’s a little chilly outside doesn’t mean you can’t have your party outdoors. I’m not talking about freezing weather. Let’s be sensible! And – yes – I know: “chilly” weather in California isn’t the same kind of “chilly” in Michigan. What I’m talking about is pleasantly calm weather that lets us enjoy winter! Tell your guests that the party is outside and they’ll know to dress accordingly! No matter where you are and how well people dress, warmth for your outdoor dining party is an absolute must. Depending on where you live, an open campfire on the ground may not be a good idea. In fact, in some places, it might even be illegal. Either way, covered fire pits and outdoor fireplaces (chimenea) may be the safer alternative. My search turned up a few helpful ideas. Lowe’s has several styles of covered fire pits that will meet all…

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What I’ve learned about sophisticated living – and how I’m taking it to the next level in 2018. A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We only get one ticket to the big dance.  Make it count!”  I get that. I’m all for enjoying life. There are a lot of ways that you can live, why not do it while leading an exciting and flavorful life? The big question is, “how?” If you’ve been following my blog or my videos on YouTube, you know that this question is the very heart of what I call sophisticated living. There’s a very fine line between just living and living fabulously. – and I choose fabulously.  It’s certainly more than spending a ton of money – you definitely do not have to and just the spending does NOT make the difference. It’s an attitude – yes – but it’s also a state…

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An excellent way to balance a great NYE party is an excellent NYD Open House. New Year’s Eve is a great time to celebrate, don’t you think? What better time to party than to ring in the new year? And I have to say – it’s a lot of fun to host. I should know, I’ve done quite a few. Many of my New Years’ Eve parties have turned into big events with the house packed with 100-plus guests.  Most of the time for these New Years’ Eve parties the last guests are leaving way past 1am! Sometimes with all the excitement of New Years’ Eve, we forget about New Years’ Day. In some ways, it’s an even better day to celebrate – with family and close friends. Even friends of mine who are not big football fans love to hang out together for a little NYD gathering. Everyone who…

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Tipping guidelines for keeping up with etiquette while traveling. There are general travel tipping guidelines, but during the holidays it’s even more important to remember to thank those with whom you interact and accept their services. Check out my videos on the subject of tipping: one on general tipping etiquette and another on tipping for travel. When you’re traveling it all starts right at the airport with the skycap. Think of tipping $1-2 per bag for curbside check-in unless they are doing additional work for you – maybe you need extra assistance from curbside to the desk for a special request. In those cases, then a flat $20 for an “all in” tip is appropriate. For tipping for hotel maids and housekeeping, typically the tip should be $3 to 5 per night of your stay. It varies due to the hotel I’m staying in or how much mess I’ve made. …

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An easy “pickle” recipe that’s great for home or as a gift. I had a great Bloody Mary at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, and they served a simply wonderful vinegary/garlicky green bean as one of the vegetable garnishes – no celery stalk!   I was so impressed with the taste and simplicity, I brought the idea home and decided to try it for myself. What I found out was that quick pickling is very easy. It requires no specialized equipment or skills, and it’s not at all like canning food. The recipe itself takes VERY little time, and it can be done with just about any firm vegetable – green beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, asparagus, etc. The main ingredients for the pickling “sauce” (brining liquid) are vinegar, water, Kosher salt (or pickling salt), and maybe sugar. You can use apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and so…

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